Senator Michaelia Cash threatened to name and shame young women working in Opposition Leader Bill Shortens office during a bizarre rant earlier today Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP Cash makes threat over 'rumours' in Shorten's office
Senator Michaelia Cash threatened to name and shame young women working in Opposition Leader Bill Shortens office during a bizarre rant earlier today Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP Cash makes threat over 'rumours' in Shorten's office

Why Cash’s outburst was so dangerous

OPINION

THERE aren't enough young women working in Australian politics and today Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash did her utmost to ensure that won't change.

During a Senate Estimates hearing, Senator Cash was being asked legitimate questions about the employment of her new chief of staff when she lashed out in the most bizarre way.

"If you want to start discussing staff matters, be very, very careful" she threatened. "I am happy to name every woman in Mr Shorten's office about which rumours in this place abound."

Moments later, Labor's Penny Wong entered the room, insisting that Senator Cash withdraw her casual aspersions about the Leader of the Opposition's women staff. The Minister did so but without a shred of visible remorse and in ultimate "sorry, not sorry" fashion, she apologised to "anyone [who] has been offended".

I wonder, now, who might have been offended by what Senator Cash said.

How about we start with the 11 women who are employed in Mr Shorten's office?

Up until recently Michaelia Cash held the title minister for women. Picture Kym Smith
Up until recently Michaelia Cash held the title minister for women. Picture Kym Smith

These are women who often arrive at work before the sun rises and rarely leave before it sets.

They are women who have studied hard and earned their positions because of a particularly impressive set of political, policy, administrative, and strategic skills.

These are women who have fought like buggery to be taken seriously in politics, a world where women's status is too often diminished.

Now you may disagree with the political convictions of these women and you make dislike their bosses personally. That is every voter's prerogative.

That doesn't, however, make them any less deserving of a safe and fair place to go to work. They should not have to work in an environment where someone significantly more powerful than them can broadcast baseless, sexist slurs of this kind.

I worked in political offices between the ages of 19 and 25, so I have some experience of being a young woman staff member.

While it is an honour and a privilege to work for a political party you believe in, it is not an easy life.

Almost a dozen women work for Opposition Bill Shorten. Today they were all publicly humiliated. Picture: Gary Ramage
Almost a dozen women work for Opposition Bill Shorten. Today they were all publicly humiliated. Picture: Gary Ramage

Parliament House and our national politics were institutions built by and for men. While more women than ever before now roam the corridors of power, sexism undeniably exists. And it takes its toll.

We need more women in politics, women of all political persuasions. We need more women sitting in the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and we need more women staffing those politicians who do.

If we want our politicians to reflect the people who vote for them, then that begins by having a representative number of women and men.

We're talking here about the most powerful building in the country, that this workplace be committed to gender equality, should be no question.

It was only last week that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull - Senator Cash's boss - said in a press conference: "We all should live values of respect, respectful workplaces, of workplaces where women are respected."

Well, it sounds like there's a hell of a lot of work to be done in his own backyard when Senator Cash - who at the time was representing the Minister for Women and has previously held the portfolio herself - is willing to impugn almost a dozen hard working staff by virtue of their age and their sex.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull only last week spoke of the importance of workplaces where women are respected. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull only last week spoke of the importance of workplaces where women are respected. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Now, perhaps you think that what Senator Cash said was no big deal.

Rumours are rumours, after all. Chatter is chatter and you can't stop people talking. And anyone who has ever worked in an office knows that 99 per cent of gossip is utterly devoid of fact.

Except that this wasn't a mere piece of water-cooler speculation.

This was a Minister in the Australian government speaking on the public record, in a committee of the nation's Parliament.

A Minister who lazily and cruelly lumped together a near-dozen hardworking women, who are unable to defend themselves in the same arena.

There aren't enough women in politics. Hell, I wonder why?